- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
One of the most common mistakes fantasy baseball owners make during drafts is selecting players without actual knowledge of which position(s) they are actually eligible to play. Obviously, this can be a pretty big deal. This also happens when owners are choosing keepers. Positional eligibility is important, adding and removing value in more cases than many realize. Let’s cover all the bases in this blog entry in highlighting the versatile players, those who gained key value and those who lost it, and everything in between. We’ll go position by position here.
Catcher: Big news! Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox and Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers are no longer catchers. Napoli is a first baseman now, and Martinez did not play any position enough in 2013, so he is a designated hitter. They retain value, but not like when they were backstops.
Meanwhile, several catchers did play enough at other positions in 2013, and while one might think that’s meaningless, think again. The San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey and Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana are the ones who bring first base eligibility as well. Would you ever use it? Sure, in an ESPN standard format if you lose a corner infielder to injury in June you might find some pretty good catchers available, at least in proportion to the corner infielders on free agency.
Santana’s situation is even more interesting; he’s slated to play third base this season, adding to his value if that comes to fruition. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves boast a pair of catchers with outfield eligibility in Evan Gattis and Ryan Doumit. Neither is a standout defensive catcher, as one might imagine since they spent ample time in the outfield, but their dual-eligibility is secure this season and relevant.
Finally, looking ahead for those in dynasty/keeper formats, Minnesota Twins icon Joe Mauer lost his first base eligibility from 2012, but will regain it by mid-April. The Twins are moving him from catcher to first base permanently. Watch him hit .350. Draft Mauer in a dynasty league, and you’ll likely be searching for another catcher in 2015. Remember the ESPN rules for eligibilit. It takes 20 games played in 2013 for eligibility -- or the most games played at a position (including DH) if fewer games than that -- but in-season, it’s 10 games.
First base: Perhaps the biggest story here, as with catcher, is with a key player losing eligibility. Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals is DH-only. It’s probably a bigger deal that he didn’t hit for expected power in 2013, but still, many fantasy owners are loathe to fill the utility/DH spot until late in drafts. By the way, David Ortiz of the Red Sox … still DH-only. The last season he played double-digit games at first base remains 2006. Butler played seven games at first base in 2013. Unless Eric Hosmer needs a disabled list stint, it’s not likely Butler will see much time there in 2014.
After that, there’s not a ton meaningful for eligibility discussion at first base. Michael Cuddyer, Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Carpenter, Christian Yelich, Daniel Nava, Mike Olt, Yan Gomes, Todd Frazier and Chris Johnson are among those who lost first base eligibility from 2013, but each is more valuable at their primary position. Several sluggers (to varying degrees) carry first base/outfield eligibility in 2014, including Allen Craig, Mark Trumbo, Brandon Moss, Corey Hart, Nick Swisher, Chris Carter and Garrett Jones, while Juan Francisco and Mark Reynolds can accrue strikeouts and the occasional long ball at both corner infield spots, if you’re desperate.
Second base: Securing middle infielders eligible at multiple spots isn’t a prerequisite by any means, but it’s helpful. Ask anyone who has owned Ben Zobrist the past few seasons. Zobrist can play second base, shortstop and outfield in 2014, which is awesome. Martin Prado is eligible at second base, third base and outfield. Those are the lone players in the ESPN Fantasy top 300 with eligibility at three positions, and it does matter.
Among those with second base eligibility who can play other spots are Matt Carpenter (3B), Jed Lowrie (SS), Kelly Johnson (OF), Dustin Ackley (OF), Jordy Mercer (SS) and Alberto Callaspo (3B). Maicer Izturis can play second base, shortstop and third base, but that alone doesn’t make him a fantasy asset. He hit .236 in 2013 and stole one base in six attempts. As for those having lost second base eligibility, it’s pretty much Brad Miller of the Seattle Mariners and that’s it. Miller is a shortstop now.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox is slated to start at shortstop and should hit enough to be a legitimate contender for top rookie honors. However, while he played eight big league games at shortstop last season, he played nine at third base. He will start the 2014 campaign with third base eligibility only, meaning he cannot be drafted as your middle infielder. Two weeks into the season he’s likely to gain that key eligibility. He’s safely in my top 200, so draft him anyway. You can handle two weeks of a fill-in middle infielder, even Izturis!
A year ago, Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers was eligible at shortstop and third base. Now he can play second base only. He’s worth drafting, too. Others who had shortstop eligibility and lost it include Brian Dozier, Josh Rutledge, Wilmer Flores, Danny Espinosa and Nick Franklin, while Billy Hamilton and Junior Lake had it in the minors, but now are simply outfielders. Those eligible at shortstop and other positions include the aforementioned Zobrist, Lowrie and Izturis, as well as Jose Iglesias (3B), Mike Aviles (3B) and the Cardinals’ Daniel Descalso, who can play each infield spot other than first base, like Izturis. And he doesn’t hit better.
Third base: If you get one of the top picks and want to take the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, he is a third baseman. He’s slated to play first base this season, for his health and that of the team’s pitchers, and to make room for prospect Nick Castellanos, so look for dual-eligibility by mid-April. Incidentally, Castellanos is not third base eligible yet. He played all nine of his games in the field for the Tigers in left field.
Castellanos was eligible at third base for last season, though. There are more established sluggers who also were used at the hot corner in 2013, but lost the eligibility, including Hanley Ramirez, Jedd Gyorko and Anthony Rendon. They can all play middle infield. By the way, Edwin Encarnacion last played more than 10 games at third base in 2011, and he played only 10 games there in 2013.
Carpenter and Prado are the lone players worth drafting in standard formats with eligibility at third base and another spot. As noted earlier, Carpenter can also play second base, and Prado second base and outfield. Others with third base among their multi-eligibility are Reynolds, Francisco, Iglesias, Casey McGehee, Aviles, Izturis, Callaspo, Descalso and Jeff Keppinger. Yes, Casey McGehee is back in the big leagues!
Outfield: Oh no, Chris Davis, the fellow who blasted 53 home runs last season, is no longer outfield-eligible! You’ll live. Others who had outfield eligibility but lost it include Carpenter and Logan Morrison. Outfielders who can play other spots as well include the aforementioned Craig, Zobrist, Trumbo, Prado, Moss, Hart, Swisher, Gattis, Kelly Johnson, Carter, Ackley, Garrett Jones and Doumit. Others eligible at first base and outfield include Lucas Duda, Mike Carp, Kyle Blanks, Jesus Guzman, Chris Parmelee, Jeff Baker and Darin Ruf, if you’re into that sort of thing. Emilio Bonifacio and Alexi Amarista can play second base and outfield, but neither figure to play much.
Designated hitter: Boston’s Ortiz finished among the top 20 overall on the Player Rater last year. I’d argue it’s worth “clogging” the utility spot for him by round six or seven, at worst. Butler remains in my top 100. Others who are DH-only are Detroit’s Martinez, then Henry Urrutia, Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, Danny Valencia and Jason Giambi.
Pitchers: We know that many of you play in ESPN custom leagues in which starting pitchers and relievers are separated. Eligibility rules for pitchers are five starts and eight relief outings from last season. In season, it’s three starts and five relief outings. Those among the top 150 starting pitchers or top 100 relievers with dual-eligibility include Alex Wood, David Phelps, Joe Kelly, Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards, Tanner Roark, Kevin Gausman, Brett Anderson and Tyson Ross. Meanwhile, Hisashi Iwakuma, Shelby Miller, Kris Medlen, Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando and Kyle Kendrick are no longer eligible as relievers, while Aroldis Chapman, Luke Hochevar, Tommy Hunter, Drew Smyly, Kevin Siegrist, Josh Collmenter and Tim Stauffer are solely relievers entering this season.
One of the most common mistakes fantasy baseball owners make during drafts is selecting players without actual knowledge of which position(s) they are actually eligible to play.